Saturday, July 30, 2011

Miami Memories: The Pro

On Father's day I sat down to find a picture of my dad to put on facebook. Due to lack of patience with technology on my part, the task did not go as planned. In the moment of frustration I realized it was not the photo that was so important, it was the memories of the man who was my father, Johnie Stapp, PGA Professional at Miami (Oklahoma) Country Club, 1953-1977.
People might recall what a dynamic teacher he was when it came to the game of golf. He loved this sport and believed that it was a metaphor for life. It was his competitive spirit and tenacity to learn that significantly shaped the lives of his two daughters, Letty and Jonya, who would go on to become lifelong teachers themselves.
The Old Pro, Johnie Stapp

So much of the man he became was a result of a childhood accident that could have left him crippled for life. He was fourteen years old the first time the matches lit more than his cigarette. He was a curly dark haired boy with crystal blue eyes, who loved to keep his hands busy smoking or working on automobiles, one of his lifetime fascinations. He was working under a care when a dog came along and teased him. While working and playing tug with the dog his matches fell out of fa pocket and somehow were scratched, causing a fire to ignite on the garage floor. In his attempt to extinguish the fire his arms were burned from the finger tips to his shoulders.

The treatment for burned skin in the 1920's was nearly as painful as the burns themselves. Dad spent fourteen months in st. Francis Hospital, in Wichita, KS with his arms bandaged. However, being a good looking young man he charmed the nuns and nurses, and so as grandmother often chuckled, "they spoiled him rotten,"

The bandaged burns and several surgeries left both of his forearms drawn at forty-five degree angles, and his finger tightly curled inwards. It left him unable to hold a pencil, handle tools in the garage, or do much more than rake leaves. One of his doctors was a golfer and took an interest in his young patient. In the beginning, the golf was prescribed for therapy. The doctor taught him how to grip the club properly, which meant painful gripping and twisting to his hands and wrists. While still in the hospital dad practiced how to grip a cub, giving his hands and arms the muscles needed to once again become useful. When he was released from the hospital he would meet his doctor on weekends at a nearby golf course. Eventually, he learned to swing the club. While the recovery was painful, it also proved a new playground for the then sixteen year old. The pro at Sims Parks suggested that Johnie become a caddy, which would give him an opportunity to make money, and play golf one day a week.

Through perseverance and the guiding hand of a loving mother, my father's young arms and hands responded to the golf swing treatment. He became fascinated with a game that would provide a lifelong source of income, enjoyment, and success.
Like so many fathers of my generation, he was a World War II veteran, who rarely spoke of the battles in the Pacific, but he did share stories of the peoples he met throughout the war. He spent time in Japan after the war. Thanks to his friendly nature and genuine smile, he met and stayed in touch with several Japanese families for the next twenty years. This friendship provided the opportunity for me to share unique items, such as cards and handwriting in Japanese, during Show and Tell. During my childhood there were many adventures with my father: we drove and raced the mustard colored Muntz; dug a hole for a bomb shelter to protect our family; spent Monday's at Grand Lake fishing, swimming, skiing; traveled extensively to play in golf tournaments and take vacations. We met many of the great LPGA golfers (Marilynn Smith, Patty Berg, Mickey Wright) and the PGA pros (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player). Thanks to those experiences of my father, my sister and I learned to stand in front of an audience and tell stories.

My fondest memories are of the summer evenings we spent together shagging golf balls on the driving range. To make it simpler for us to pick up the balls he would place a half-dozen metal baskets around the range. My job was to go out and chip balls to the baskets. Over and over we would chip balls to the designated areas until they were close enough to shag, or pick up by hand. It was a special time for me, as I rarely got in trouble, and I learned how to share a job making it easier for everyone. I also learned to keep my head down and finish the job. I observed the forces of nature in the winds, clouds, the life cycle of animals, and I learned to whistle a tune, sing a song, and relax as the day ends. Wherever I went with Dad, there was always a lesson to learn or a story to tell. Thank you Dad.